Rational choice theory and international politics

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Understanding international conflict and co-operation

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Aims and scope: 

This course provides an introduction to the strategic approach to international politics. It uses the annexation of Crimea, the US-China trade war, Brexit, or the Covid-19 crisis as case studies to illustrate the concepts introduced thoughout the course. It starts by laying the foundations, introducing students to different ways to think about the national interest, and showing them how to use the strategic perspective to better understand what happens in all aspects of international politics. Also covered is a basic, intuitive introduction to game theory and other evidence- and logic-based tools for analyzing international relations. A second topic analyses war, and provides a more thorough evaluation of how domestic political incentives and domestic institutions of governance shape choices about conflict initiation, escalation, and termination. A third topic focuses on peace, and builds on the logic of collective action to help students see why it is so difficult to get national governments to do what is right even when they can agree on what is right. It covers the effectiveness of international organizations and international law, including an evaluation of environmental issues, human rights enforcement, and the domestic and the international political economy of trade. Finally, a fourth topic discusses world order, emphasising efforts to promote the spread of democracy, alleviate poverty, and fight terrorism, examining which strategies work, which do not, and why.

Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) is an approach for learning content through an additional language (foreign or second), thus learning both the subject and the language simultaneously. This approach to teaching and learning has never featured as strongly on university curricula as it does now. Besides, the great revolution of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has had a tremendous impact on education. For the development of foreign language communication skills in particular, ICT is an ideal platform for developing interactive strategies and methodologies that promote independent learning, peer interaction, and language use for real communicative purposes. In a world where broadband connections and mobile-data enabled smartphones are widespread, and where students are digital natives, there is great potential for combining CLIL with ICT. If we add to this the opportunities that international university partnerships and networks offer for student interaction across borders, we have all the necessary ingredients for a successful course.

1. The scientific method: evaluating arguments about international politics. 2. Rational choice theory: when foreign policy collides with domestic politics. 3. Tools for analyzing international affairs. 4. An introduction to game theory. 5. Why war: the big picture. 6. Domestic theories of war. 7. How international organizations work, or don’t work. 8. Global warming: designing a solution. 9. Human rights, international law and norms. 10. Free trade or fair: the domestic politics of tariffs. 11. Globalization: international winners and losers. 12. Foreign aid, poverty and revolution. 13. Can terrorism be rational? 14. A democratic world order: peace without democratization.

Indicative reading: 

Bueno de Mesquita, B. (2013). Principles of international politics (5th edition). CQ Press. Getmansky, A. & Quiroz Flores, A. (2013). Applying the strategic perspective: problems and models (5th edition). CQ Press.

Teaching modules: